Bud Yorkin, director of influential 1970s TV shows including “All In The Family,” “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Sons” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” died Aug. 18 of natural causes at his home in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 89.
Yorkin played a pivotal role in developing some of the most popular series of the 1970s in partnership with Norman Lear at Tandem Productions. He was nominated for three Emmys and worked on TV series that won 25 Emmys and 10 Golden Globes. His feature film directing credits included “Love Hurts,” “Twice In A Lifetime,” “Arthur 2: On The Rocks,” “The Thief Who Came To Dinner” and “Inspector Clouseau.”
After working in the 1950s on numerous award-winning variety shows, he teamed with writer Lear in 1959 to form Tandem Productions, and made his film directing debut with “Come Blow Your Horn” starring Frank Sinatra. Yorkin had previously worked with Lear on such 1950s variety series as “The Colgate Comedy Hour” and “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.”
Lear noted that his former partner garnered early acclaim as a writer-director, including two Emmy Awards for writing and directing the 1959 special “An Evening with Fred Astaire.” That prestige gave the pair an advantage when they launched their own shingle the same year.
“His was the horse we rode in on and I couldn’t love or appreciate him more,” Lear said in a statement.
Yorkin’s other films as director included 1967 satire “Divorce American Style” with Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds and 1970 historical spoof ” Start the Revolution Without Me,” starring Gene Wilder, Donald Sutherland and Orson Welles. Yorkin was also executive producer of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” and was involved in the sequel which is in the works.
It was Yorkin who first discovered the British comedy series “Till Death Do Us Part,” bringing it to the U.S. with Lear to create “All in the Family” for ABC, which passed on the initial pilot. After it was recast with Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, Yorkin directed the pilot and sold it to CBS. The sitcom became one of the most influential TV series of all time, and one of the first to feature characters from diverse backgrounds and controversial political, sexual and cultural topics.
After ending his partnership with Lear, Yorkin teamed with Saul Turteltaub and Bernie Orenstein to create Toy Productions, which produced “What’s Happening,” a teen comedy set in Watts; and “Carter Country,” a fish-out-of-water comedy starring Victor French and Kene Holliday as small-town cops. In 1979, Toy Productions was acquired by Columbia Pictures, the same studio that would acquire Lear’s Embassy Communications in 1985.
In 1973, Yorkin was named “Man of the Year” by the Television Academy and in 2002, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. In 2003, he received the David Susskind Lifetime Achievement Award in Television from the Producer’s Guild of America. He served as a trustee at Carnegie-Mellon University and endowed the Bud Yorkin Awards for directing and playwriting students, as well as serviing as a trustee of the American Film Institute from 1981-2009. Yorkin was also involved with the AFI Celebrity Golf Tournament at the Riviera Country Club that raised more than $4 million in support of AFI programs and The Y Classic, which ran for 12 years in support of the Wood River Community YMCA in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Born Alan Yorkin in Washington, Penn., he served in the army during WWII and graduated Carnegie Mellon on a football scholarship. He got his start in television as a camera engineer at NBC, but discovering an affinity for comedy, he switched to working as a stage manager and writer for NBC’s “Colgate Comedy Hour.”
After working as a director on the Martin & Lewis show, Yorkin went on to direct numerous variety shows for Dinah Shore, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Fred Astaire. He moved into directing and producing specials featuring top stars including Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, Dick Cavett, Bobby Darin, Don Rickles, Carol Channing, Andy Williams, Robert Young and Duke Ellington.
He is survived by his wife Cynthia Sikes Yorkin, sons David and Michael, daughters Nicole and Jessica, and four grandchildren. Nicole Yorkin is a prominent writer-producer and showrunner.
Donations may be made to the Motion Picture Fund, in honor of Bud Yorkin, or by check made payable to MPTF Donation, P.O. Box 51151, Los Angeles, CA 90051-9706.